Wheaton College Norton, Massachusetts

A handle on the history of shovels

During the groundbreaking for the new Diane C. Nordin ’80 artificial turf field, Wheaton’s shovels played a key role.

During the Homecoming groundbreaking for the new Diane C. Nordin ’80 artificial turf field, an array of Wheaton shovels, which date back to 1916, were out on display and used during the ceremony. We asked College Archivist Zephorene Stickney for the scoop on these historic shovels that play such a starring role in our new endeavors.

Class years are inscribed on the handles of shovels

At the end of the 19th century, graduating seniors began planting class ivy or class trees on campus. Photographs indicate that the entire class gathered at the chosen location, reciting poems crafted for the occasion, singing the class song written by the class song leader, and often reading a class will. In later years, graduating classes also began to bury a treasure box filled with mementos near its tree. (During their 25th Reunion celebrations, classes open the box, if it can be located beneath the tree’s growing root system.)

All of this digging, of course, required a good shovel. The Oliver Ames shovel factory in nearby Easton, Mass., manufactured our earliest class shovels. The narrow, square shovels were designed for digging ditches. The shaft and handle are only 38" tall, making the shovel perfect for the ceremonial turning of a few clods of earth.

The first class to use a special shovel was the Class of 1916, as noted by the class year scratched into the handle. Beginning in 1917, the class years have been professionally inscribed.

Prior to the annual senior class tree planting, the college carpenters carve the class year into the shovel handle, and paint the carving in the class color. Over the years, this practice has resulted in colorful shovels that serve as reminders of preceding classes and of a long-standing campus tradition. ­The college now has five class shovels that recently have been used at groundbreaking ceremonies for buildings and athletic fields.